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Courtesy of FAKOSHIMA

This niche Russian fragrance fearlessly champions queer identity

As an extension of his eyewear label FAKOSHIMA, Konstantin Shilyaev has launched a perfume that speaks to expression and creativity beyond the boundaries of his home country’s conservative, homophobic social landscape

In 2021, the idea of a gender neutral fragrance isn’t new. Niche perfumes have a long-standing legacy of smells that go beyond the binary and even mass-market players like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Fendi have already tapped into the field. But what about a fragrance that takes things one step further and creates an atmosphere of queerness without borders and embodies passion without inhibitions? 

Based out of Moscow, Russia, Konstantin Shilyaev first launched his eyewear brand FAKOSHIMA in 2013. Since then, he has created a cult following behind the label’s signature oversized, geometric frames with Nicki Minaj, Roìsin Murphy, and alien beauty icon Tilda Swinton all part of the fandom. In fact, it’s the time Shilyaev met Swinton in Moscow and showed her the prototypes that marked the official birthday of the brand. “From that debut of my first collection, I was thinking about using fragrance in the packaging but it was just an idea, nothing more,” explains Shilyaev.

It wasn’t until summer 2019, when he was spending time with his friend and perfumer Yaroslav Simonov that Shilyaev began believing it could be a reality. Simonov had just started working with fragrance and was playing around with different samples, when the designer discovered this one bottle. He describes it as a raw essence of passion. “It was like I smelled something strong like poppers. It’s not a good idea to describe fragrance like geometry, but it was like a scent with angles and edges. I felt the goosebumps on my skin, and the feeling was like I opened the door of a sex club. I was a bit afraid, but excited about the possibilities.” He remembers taking it with him and wearing it for months, before deciding to actually turn it into the official FAKOSHIMA fragrance.

In 2020, the duo developed and produced 30 bottles of the scent, which they titled Tear You Apart in reference to its intoxicating combination of spicy and woody notes with a leathery character. In Shilyaev’s mind, it presented a feeling of going on a wild night out, with a mix of sweat and alcohol reflected in notes of rum, tobacco, oud and warm spices. They gave this first batch away to friends, and the feedback was surprising even to them. “They would tell me how they had great sex, a really good date… That they feel really strong and confident. That’s when I realised it’s a smell of lust,” says Shilyaev.

This year, they have launched a more potent version of the perfume called Tear You Apart Extrait, which is currently available for sale online only in Russia due to the restrictions of international delivery of perfumes via AirMail. To celebrate the launch, Shilyaev worked with music video director Alexander Devyatchenko Soldak on creating a video campaign that encapsulates the spirit of the scent. The ad, starring two guys and a girl, sees the trio in a passionate embrace, involved in a sweaty three-way make-out session. “It was really difficult to find models because a lot of them said no after seeing the description. They didn’t want to kiss a guy in a public space or have a three-way kiss. Even though some of them were gay, they didn’t want to have this seen by the public,” explains Shilyaev. The final three that were cast were ex-model and DJ Valentina Nemchenkova, OnlyFans entertainer Nik Fros and musician and model Nariman Malanov. 

Being based in Russia, a country known for its anti-gay laws, FAKOSHIMA is unarguably a label with a queer identity. Shilyaev himself is openly gay, and so much of his brand’s visual narrative involves other queer artists. But its founder rejects the idea of being called an activist. “I don’t go protesting on the streets, because I know the effects of it. But I’m trying to show my vision through my work – photoshoots, videos… I’m not trying to find my audience in the gay community, I’m just trying to provide my vision and tell my story.” Surpassing the rigid homophic standards of Russia, Shilyaev is subversively crafting his own creative universe where boundaries, labels and discrimination don’t exist. He explains that 75 per cent of his fragrance’s audience are in fact female. “They told me they really like naked men, no matter their sexuality,” he laughs.

Konstantin Shilyaev and Yaroslav Simonov are currently preparing to launch their second scent which is inspired by the films of Pedro Almodovar and their interpretation of love stories. They are also developing the third and fourth fragrance, as they plan to build a total of five initial scents in this line. As Shilyaev puts it: “At the end of the day, my evolving relationship with Yaroslav is the main engine of this project and that’s why we decided to put human feelings at the core of this project; because human feelings are so multi-faceted and we’re trying to portray as many of them as possible.”

The FAKOSHIMA fragrances are available here